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Council members work with developers on controversial project

Two County Council members are meeting behind closed doors with developers of a controversial Kailua-Kona development, trying to work out a deal after proposed changes to the project received negative recommendations from the county Planning Department and Leeward Planning Commission.

Bills 200 and 201 allow revisions to 11 conditions of approval on a 2005 rezoning. The 30-acre property is located makai of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Pualani Estates Subdivision.

Developers Puaa Development LLC and Suffolk Investment LLC want to change the rezoning ordinance to create a smaller commercial center than originally envisioned, downsizing it from 93,600 to 72,600 square feet, while also adding a transit hub and 100 multifamily housing units.

In addition to more time for required water deposits, to complete construction and allowing the use of administrative time extensions, developers want to change locations of an intersection and spine road, eliminate the requirement for a supplementary traffic impact analysis report and modify affordable housing and fair share provisions.

While the council Planning Committee earlier this month voted unanimously to forward the bills with a positive recommendation, a couple of dozen neighbors and West Hawaii residents sent in testimony opposing the development, asking council members to either change their votes or postpone the measures until more information can be gathered.

The council agreed Wednesday to postpone the measures until Nov. 6.

In the meantime, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, chairwoman of the council Planning Committee, and Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, whose district the development is in, said they will continue their discussions with the Planning Department, the developer and the developer’s representatives.

The two council members met for two hours Monday via Zoom with the interested parties, Kierkiewicz said. She said three of the 11 conditions are still being hammered out.

The state Sunshine Law allows two council members to meet and discuss council business without public notice or open meetings, provided no commitments to vote one way or the other are made. Whether two council members can meet outside a public meeting to craft amendments is a question that hasn’t been addressed by the state Office of Information Practices or the courts, an OIP attorney told West Hawaii Today on Wednesday.

Asked whether the two council members made a commitment to vote, Kierkiewicz replied, “Council meetings are not the right venue for a back and forth exchange between community and applicant, which is why I suggested the applicant meet with community to go over proposed amendments in detail.”

She said the community will have the opportunity to study the proposed amendments before the council votes on them.

“I motioned to postpone the measure to the next council meeting to be accountable to my colleagues and report on the status of the bills,” Kierkiewicz said. “At the end of the day, the council needs to make a decision on how to proceed on land use because that’s part of our job.”

Villegas described the process as “just person-to-person based on relationships,” saying it’s the first time she’s worked so closely with developers.

“I really feel like I know that we are able to come to conclusions on three issues,” Villegas said, “and I really hope the constituents in this district will be pleased with what’s come about.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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